Low rates of staff vaccinations at long-term care homes amid outbreaks raise concerns

·6 min read
A staff member at Ottawa's Carlingview Manor waves from a window on May 15, 2020. An average of 65 per cent of long-term care staff working in Ottawa-area homes have received their COVID-19 vaccine, a CBC data analysis reveals.     (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
A staff member at Ottawa's Carlingview Manor waves from a window on May 15, 2020. An average of 65 per cent of long-term care staff working in Ottawa-area homes have received their COVID-19 vaccine, a CBC data analysis reveals. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

An average of only 65 per cent of long-term care staff working in Ottawa long-term care homes have received vaccinations against COVID-19, a survey by CBC reveals, leaving residents in some facilities to face further isolation and confinement as homes grapple to contain outbreaks, mainly involving staff.

The low staff vaccination rate is a serious concern for residents' families, many of whom had hoped that once their loved ones and caregivers were vaccinated, there would be more freedom.

"Where's public health?" asks Betty Yakimenko, head of the family council at Madonna Care Community in Orléans, where just 51 per cent of workers have received the vaccine."

What it all boils down to is our family members are now still stuck in their rooms, yet again. - Betty Yakimenko, head of family council at Madonna Care Community

Yakimenko added: "Something needs to be changed. This is ludicrous. What it all boils down to is our family members are now still stuck in their rooms, yet again."

Over the week of March 15, CBC Ottawa surveyed all 28 long-term care homes in the city, asking each home for the percentage of staff and residents vaccinated.

CBC compiled this research because information about staff vaccination rates is not public and could not be provided by Ottawa Public Health. OPH's dashboard information was used to compare outbreaks, deaths and total case numbers.

Two homes refused to provide CBC Ottawa with information: Villa Marconi and Manoir Marochel.

An analysis of the data showed a stark contrast in the number of residents vaccinated versus staff across the city, and revealed that some homes have experienced a remarkable difference in success in vaccinating staff.

Eight homes had fewer than 53 per cent of staff vaccinated against COVID-19. Five of those homes are currently in outbreaks. A select few homes have had success getting staff vaccinated, with five homes seeing an uptake of over 85 per cent.

In general, resident vaccination rates have been exceedingly high, with every home reporting at least 87 per cent of residents vaccinated.

The home with the lowest rate is Centre D'Accueil Champlain in Vanier, a city-run facility, where only 43 per cent of the 230 staff members have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The facility with the highest number of workers vaccinated is Osgoode Care Centre, a non-profit facility in Ottawa's rural south. It's seen a 95 per cent uptake among its 150 staff members. However, it is also experiencing its first outbreak of the pandemic, with one staff member with COVID-19.

WATCH | 'Something needs to be changed':

7 outbreaks in LTC home since last April

At Madonna Care Community — where 47 residents, two staff members and the spouse of a worker died of COVID-19 in 2020 — only 51 per cent of workers have received the vaccine, compared to 96 per cent of the residents by early February.

Madonna, operated by Sienna Senior Living, is in its seventh outbreak since last April, once again forcing residents to isolate in their rooms.

"The fact that only 51 per cent of staff are vaccinated is a huge concern … it's been a continuous outbreak and it's all staff related," said Yakimenko, whose mother, Elsie Stadler, has not contracted COVID-19.

Close to half the staff at Madonna have tested positive for COVID-19 since last spring, according to Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

We continue to work with health-care unions to encourage vaccination for all our team members. - Extendicare statement

Yakimenko, who is an essential caregiver and has already been vaccinated, doesn't understand why uptake isn't higher.

"If the staff don't look after themselves, then who's going to look after the residents?" said Yakimenko.

A spokesperson for Sienna told CBC it plans to hold staff town halls to provide "opportunities to learn about the vaccine and ask questions." Sienna is also making arrangements to provide transportation to vaccinations.

The city and OPH have plans underway to make vaccinations available at nursing homes in the region.

"An on-site clinic is scheduled for this Friday at the Centre d'Accueil Champlain home for staff and residents," said Dean Lett, director of long-term care at the city.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto, has told CBC's Ottawa Morning that Ontario's rate of vaccinations among nursing home staff was 'embarrassingly low.'
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto, has told CBC's Ottawa Morning that Ontario's rate of vaccinations among nursing home staff was 'embarrassingly low.' (Ousama Farag/CBC)

'People are confused'

CBC spoke to two personal support workers at Ottawa homes where only about half the staff have been vaccinated.

Both PSWs said co-workers fear there's not enough proof vaccines are safe.

"People are confused," said one worker from Extendicare's West End Villa, where 47 per cent of staff members have been vaccinated.

In a statement to CBC, Extendicare said: "We continue to work with health-care unions to encourage vaccination for all our team members.

"However, until mass vaccination is completed and herd immunity is achieved in the community, the virus will continue to circulate and represent a threat to our homes."

Access to vaccination delivery is also a concern for Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

In some cases, staff had to find their own transportation to vaccination clinics and seek appointments on their days off, she previously told CBC.

"That staff group has been very severely exploited. They are often racialized. They have a lot of distrust of what's being told to them and what's happening."

Ontario Health and Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton says nursing home staff were the first to be offered shots again COVID-19, so might had had 'vaccine hesitancy,' but homes are being revisited to see if more staff will want to be vaccinated.
Ontario Health and Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton says nursing home staff were the first to be offered shots again COVID-19, so might had had 'vaccine hesitancy,' but homes are being revisited to see if more staff will want to be vaccinated. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Province won't mandate vaccinations

The provincial government estimates 74 per cent of long-term care workers across Ontario have received one vaccination dose.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto, had told CBC's Ottawa Morning that Ontario's rate of vaccinations among nursing home staff is "embarrassingly low."

"I don't really want to blame anything on the staff here, because, frankly, Ontario's support for its staff and its long-term care and retirement homes hasn't honestly been terrific," said Sinha.

In an interview with CBC, the minister of health and long-term care, Merrilee Fullerton, said since nursing home staff were the first to be offered the shots, they "might have had some vaccine hesitancy.

"Everyone who's doing the vaccine is doing a tremendous job looping back to the homes to see if there are additional staff that would like to be vaccinated now that they understand more," said Fullerton.

Yakimenko thinks the provincial government should make the vaccine mandatory.

The minister says that's not something she plans to do at this point.

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